A heritage bridge
Construction of the Morpeth Bridge begins
The people of Morpeth held meetings as early as 1870 to debate the need for a bridge across the Hunter River connecting the agricultural lands of Hinton to the busy inland dock of Morpeth.
Advocacy by the local community led to the first tender being submitted, however debate over designs and finance delayed construction until 1896 when the first supporting cylinder was laid. Because iron and steel were expensive imports, a timber truss bridge design by Percy Allen (1861-1930) was used. It was constructed from local hardwoods that were much stronger than traditionally used imported pines.
The bridge is a two lane, three span structure supported by cylindrical cast iron piers and is the oldest of only three remaining overhead braced timber truss road bridges in service in NSW. Its three main truss spans are each 33.6 metres long and each of the 16 timber girder approaches is 10.7 metres long.
Records indicate that construction workers such as a Charles Crocker worked approximately 3,595 hours over a 21 month period for a wage of around £232.The beginning of works was attended by dignitaries and was just as ceremonial as the formal opening of the bridge.
The Morpeth Bridge opens in 1898
The official opening on Wednesday 15 June 1898 was attended by 800 schoolchildren and 1,500 other spectators who witnessed the new structure declared open by the Minister for Works, Mr J.H. Young, and Mayoress Mrs R Sim.
While Morpeth Bridge provided an important link between the farms and the town, it also had the effect of reducing the use of Morpeth as an inland port as cargo was too big for the riverboats to carry under the bridge. The deeper water of Newcastle became preferable for river trade.
Centenary and beyond
June 1998 saw the centenary of the Morpeth Bridge and this impressive structure was celebrated with a range of re-enactments including a bridge walk of around 100 children, street parade and ‘opening’ ceremony. Strong community representation from the Morpeth community and descendents of the original bridge builders were present. The Minister for Public Works, Mr Ron Dyer performed the cutting of the ribbon.
However after 1998 some concerns for the longevity and safety of the bridge were being expressed
In 2010 a large rehabilitation project designed to save the historic bridge was carried out over a period of seven months, the work being completed in 2011.The timber approach spans, deck planks, kerb and handrail were removed and replaced for a total investment of around $17 million – a figure indicative of the scale and value of the work